Panthers rally late, edge EGF 13-10
Two big plays by the defense and special teams in the final 5:14 rallied the Park Rapids football team to a 13-10 win over East Grand Forks Friday night at Vern Weekley Field.
Kyle Goplerud's interception set up a 28-yard touchdown pass from Tyler McCollum to Goplerud with 4:52 to play and Zach Eystad's 29-yard punt return set up a 1-yard TD run by Cory Gartner with :06 remaining to give the Panthers the win in this Heart O'Lakes Conference North Division game.
The win lifted Park Rapids to 3-4 on the season and guarantees the Panthers a home game for the first round of the Section 8AAA playoffs. A win in the regular-season finale tonight (Wednesday) at Roseau would give the Panthers the No. 2 seed and the possibility to host two playoff games.
After the Panthers were held out of the end zone after reaching the EGF 7 with 8:10 to play, it looked like a home playoff game was still in doubt.
East Grand Forks held a 10-0 lead and took over possession. After getting a first down at the Park Rapids 29, the Green Wave faced a third-and-5 when Goplerud intercepted a Nick Erickson pass at the 28.
After three incomplete passes, the Panthers faced a fourth-and-10. McCollum hit Goplerud for a 28-yard scoring play and Ian Johnson's kick made it 10-7.
Park Rapids' defense held and forced a punt with 3:28 remaining. Eystad's return down the sidelines and a facemask penalty gave the Panthers possession at the EGF 24.
Gartner's 6-yard carry and 7-yard run on fourth-and-1 led to a first-and-goal at the 7. Gartner then rushed three times for 6 yards as the Panthers faced a fourth-and-goal at the 1. Instead of going for the tying field goal, the Panthers elected to go for the win and that move paid off when Gartner scored the game-winner.
Two incomplete passes later by EGF and the Panthers escaped with a win.
"We didn't hesitate one bit to go for the touchdown. We knew we could score and we didn't want to go for the tie and take a chance in overtime," said Park Rapids head coach Aaron Morris. "Cory said 'Give me the ball and I'll score.' The kids did a good job blocking and Cory found the end zone. We needed the win. We didn't play very well, but we found a way to win and that's what matters."
The Panthers, who had scored 163 points in the last four games, were held to only 112 yards and seven first downs in the first half. Park Rapids' defense was even more effective, limiting the Green Wave to only 92 yards and seven first downs in the first two quarters.
Park Rapids' best scoring chance in the first half was on the opening series. A 23-yard run by Johnson and a roughing-the-punter penalty led the Panthers to the EGF 32. But a fumble ended that drive.
The Green Wave produced the first break of the game by blocking a punt and recovering the ball at the Park Rapids 25. A 10-yard run by Luke Beito and 9-yard catch by Austin Holy on fourth-and-5 set up a 1-yard run by Erickson, who kicked the extra point for a 7-0 lead with 7:26 to play in the first half.
Josh Severtson's kickoff return to the 46 and a pair of 9-yard runs by Eystad led the Panthers to the EGF 35. But the Panthers lost possession on downs.
Five plays later, Ben Baumgartner intercepted a pass as the Panthers regained possession at the 46. McCollum hit Gartner on an 11-yard route, but that drive ended on downs as the Green Wave carried a 7-0 lead into the half.
Park Rapids forced EGF to punt on the opening series of the second half and McCollum hit Goplerud on a 20-yard route. But another fumble proved costly as the Green Wave took over at the Park Rapids 30.
An unsportsmanlike penalty gave EGF a first down at the 13, but the Panthers' defense held and the Green Wave had to settle for a 23-yard field goal by Erickson. With 5:09 to play in the third quarter, EGF held a 10-0 lead.
Neither offense mounted a drive until the Panthers regained possession at their own 37 with 11:54 to play. A 10-yard pass to David Dirks and 7-yard pass to Noah MacPherson on fourth-and-2 led to a first down at the EGF 49. The Panthers used an offsides penalty, a personal-foul penalty and a pass interference penalty (which negated an interception by Beito) to reach the EGF 8, but McCollum was sacked on fourth down as the Green Wave took over at the 17 with 8:10 to play.
Park Rapids then scored twice in the final 4:52 to rally for the win.
The Panthers compiled a season-low 219 yards in offense with Johnson rushing 19 times for 60 yards and McCollum completing 7 of 23 passes for 84 yards with Goplerud making two receptions for 48 yards.
EGF, which fell to 2-3 in the conference and 3-4 overall, finished with 169 yards in offense.
"The kids didn't want to lose. You could see the determination in their eyes," said Morris. "This is a huge step for these guys. The offense struggled, but the defense played very well and kept us in the game. It wasn't pretty, but a win is a win and we'll take it."
EGF 0 7 3 0.....10
Park Rapids 0 0 0 13.....13
EGF-Erickson 1 run (Erickson kick)
EGF-Erickson 23 FG
PR-K. Goplerud 28 pass from T. McCollum (I. Johnson kick)
PR-Gartner 1 run (kick failed)
RUSHING. EGF: Boushey 15-72, Beito 9-35, Erickson 17-27. Park Rapids: I. Johnson 19-60, Gartner 11-31, Dirks 13-22, Eystad 3-21, Baumgartner 1-1.
PASSING. EGF: Erickson 6-15-3 for 28 yards; Ausmus 0-1-1 for 0 yards. Park Rapids: T. McCollum 7-23-0 for 84 yards.
RECEIVING. EGF: Holy 2-14, Mortenson 2-8. Park Rapids: K. Goplerud 2-48, Gartner 1-11, Dirks 1-10, I. Johnson 2-8, MacPherson 1-7.